I had always thought of myself as liberal and therefore presumably a liberal. Turns out, I was wrong. They aren’t the same. Not even close.
According to the dictionary, the adjective liberal comes from liberalis (latin) meaning “of freedom.” Liberal describes someone who is has an open mind, free from bigotry or bias, not constrained by standard doctrine, indeed someone who actively resists orthodoxy.
Calling oneself “a liberal” connotes an affiliation with the political philosophy known as liberalism. This is a misnomer bordering on oxymoron. Since we desperately need clear communication, let’s call the person who believes in liberalism a liberalist (not “a liberal”), just as capitalists, socialists, and communists believe in capitalism, socialism and communism.
Liberalism was founded on the primacy of the individual and the rule of the individual in contrast to the rule of the monarchy, the priesthood, or the central authority. For the liberalist, those who have power govern only by the consent of the governed, not by heredity, as the sole conduit to God, or as the exclusive holder of special knowledge. The liberalist believes the individual knows best, rather than the King, Priest, or President.
The liberalist is ideologically committed to a person’s freedom to choose and then reap the benefits or suffer the consequences. Thus, a true liberalist believes firmly in personal responsibility. Such commitment today seems more associated with the adjective conservative than liberal.
So in today’s world, what is a liberal?
In 2001, calling oneself a liberal is “newspeak” – the word created by George Orwell, author of 1984. Using newspeak, words express the opposite of their generally accepted meaning. When you say bad, you mean good. In Orwell’s fictional world, firemen started fires rather than putting them out.
Saying you are a liberal today means you are anti-liberal and anti-liberalism. In today’s world, “a liberal” believes the following.
- The central authority (government) knows best rather than the individuals.
- The government should take care of me (no personal responsibility).
- The government should make the rationing (balancing) decisions between supply and demand rather than letting the market do that.
- A liberal will aggressively even violently defend ‘liberal’ orthodoxy: You either agree with me in all particulars or you are an amoral heretic and outcast.
Today’s a liberal is in fact a socialist. Compare the beliefs of “a liberal” as described above to the tenets of socialism below. Only a socialist would use public (taxpayer) funds to bail out and take ownership of a failing private company such a General Motors. The original liberalist, John Locke, would let it fail as the result of its own bad decisions. A 20th century liberalist such as Joseph Schumpeter would watch GM be resurrected by the market as something better, stronger and more competitive. He called this creative destruction.
Socialism is the political and economic philosophy that advocates common ownership and central control of the means of production and the distribution of goods and services. Do the following phrases strike a chord with “a liberal,” Democrat, effectively socialist views? “Redistribution of wealth.” “The rich must pay their fair share and support the less fortunate.” “You have a right to health care.” “The government is here to take care of you.”
Now we have precise definitions.
Liberal = open-minded, desirous of considering multiple opinions; does not accept orthodox doctrine.
A liberalist = someone who believes in the tenets of liberalism, such as espoused by John Locke pictured above.
“A” liberal = someone who believes in the tenets of socialism: a socialist.
Consider your own political and economic philosophy. Are you liberal, a liberalist, a liberal, or other? Whatever your position, please call yourself what you really are and I will do the same. That way, you and I can have effective communication based on true beliefs rather than confused, implied or distorted positions. Thank you.